Deep Red Blu-ray Review
Arrow’s AVC transfer has received some justifiable criticism for this presentation of Profundo Rosso, but the fact remains that this is, without a doubt, the best image so far that we have had of the film on home video. The problem, for me, with the 2.35:1 transfer, is its inconsistency, and the fact that, although hi-def, it doesn’t seem to have been struck from the original camera negative, with the results seemingly only a more detailed and vivid presentation of the previous master.
Now, the main thing that causes concern is the variable print quality, which can veer from being blemish-free and robust, to flickering, contrast-glitching and damaged-affected, with little frame-jumps and stutters here and there. Speckles, pops and those little white dots don’t annoy, and even that curly hair that intrudes on the top of the frame during one sequence does little more than remind you that the film is a little bit older than Avatar. I didn’t have a problem with any of the age-related issues with this transfer. But there is also what appears to be some intermittent noise reduction, and/or over-compensation for such, that can radically alter the appearance of the film grain and the texture and, quite abhorrently, there is a pixellation issue that notoriously raises its ugly head during one sequence – when Carlo speaks to Marcus in the marbled lobby of the apartment building - that is horribly noticeable even if it only lasts for a second or two, and serves to remind you that are watching the film at home, and on disc, thereby destroying that cinematic illusion completely.
Back to the grain issue. While the film texture is still there, occasions do frequently arise when we see that unsightly frozen and sharpened grain effect that so blighted City Of The Living Dead for both the Arrow and Blue Underground releases, and especially Django, for Blue Underground. I should quantify this by stating that, in no way, does Deep Red look as bad here as either as those two examples, but there are times when that silver-stippled appearance, which just looks wrong, pushes through the image and glitters across faces, pin-pricking the picture with frosted noise. To my eyes, this looks artificial.
There is a problem with blocking and over-saturation of the reds, as well. This is noticeable immediately in the, ahem, deep red curtains and stage-design for the telepathic Helga's presentation at the opening conference. Activity in the plush red drapes is distracting, especially so on much larger screens and when seen via projectors, with smearing taking place as well.
As happy as you will be with the brightness and lushness of these livid reds, they manage to eclipse the colour spectrum elsewhere, with the picture, sans anything deep red, looking vaguely washed-out and muted. This is Eastmancolour, which served Hammer extremely well during the sixties with plenty of lurid offerings to prove it, but in Argento's film, the palette, as seen here, seems weak and lacking in vitality and variety when compared to that titular primary. The push to yellow is all-too apparent, I'm afraid, which may seem appropriate for a giallo (the word literally means “yellow” in Italian), but doesn't make for a scintillating Blu-ray presentation. Skin-tones are positively anaemic, unless the owner has had the misfortune to have been partially boiled first.
Contrast is variable and patchy throughout, and comes in for some severe fluctuations during the final quarter or so, but I was very pleased with the black levels, which represent a furiously deep array of shadows across the board, and appropriately Stygian depths when called for – the killer's eye opening within the thick blackness of a cubby-hole, the surrounding gloom as Marcus makes that discovery within the sealed room, the shadows in the spook-house and around the school archive, for instance. General night-time shadows out on the streets and around the piazza also have terrific depth and add atmosphere.
Detail, on the other hand, is very good and represents a clear and often remarkable upgrade over the home video versions available so far. Whilst the background definition is not going to challenge top-tier new releases, it is reliable and more than acceptable. Images of characters appearing at the end of creepy corridors, which we get a lot of, or seen at the far edge of sets that Argento has laid-out before us like a minefield of potential dangers, are more acute and better resolved. The peripheral details at the edges of his more extreme widescreen compositions naturally give in to the softening and blurring that was part and parcel of the photography and lenses used. But the real pay-off comes with the fantastic close-ups that really come to life with vivid rendering and clarity. Images such as the eye-liner that the killer is applying, the grooves in the vinyl record, the shards of glass in a victim's lacerated throat etc, get close to that gloriously finite clarity that you would want from a hi-def makeover … of an older movie.
You can’t merely sit back and watch an Argento film – well none of his films leading up to, and including, The Stendahl Syndrome, that is. They have been obsessively constructed, frame by frame, in accordance with the mood, the psychology and the atmospheric tone of the story being unveiled. His angles, vistas, compositions and camera movements are absolutely essential and intrinsic to the feelings and impressions that he wishes to convey to the viewer. In this respect, it is both unusual and somewhat refreshing that, unlike a few directors currently savouring the opportunity to go back “in” to their films and doctor their visual appearance for the hi-def home market, Argento does not overly determined to re-evaluate and tinker-about with what is, crucially, an image – colour-timing, framing, grading etc – that he has already composed precisely to the standards that he wants. Thus, Deep Red, despite the little oddities and vagaries of this digital transfer, still reflects the passionately created picture that his feverish imagination conjured, with results that will certainly please the more casual admirer of his work. All tracking shots, as well as those luxurious sideways pans are handled with an ease and smoothness that does the visual style and tension of the film credit. Arrow’s transfer has no untoward aliasing in this respect.
But this is still a problematic transfer despite the improvements that have been made. I'm sure that Deep Red could have looked much better again, and this is compounded by the fact that the forthcoming Blu-ray edition of the film from Blue Underground (who sometimes work with, and co-fund transfers with Arrow) is mooted to have been taken from the original negative – something that this release cannot lay claim to being.
Although this transfer will please a lot of people, Arrow's release of Deep Red just earns itself a strong 6 out of 10.
Whatever misgivings we have about the video transfer, Arrow's release does a great job with the audio, folks.
On the Director’s Cut, which wins the toss of the coin, we can listen to the film in either Italian lossless DTS, or stereo, or English stereo. I have to say, up front, that I was very, very impressed with the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that is on offer here, and it does make what is, otherwise, the slower version of the film a much more exciting experience. This far exceeded what I expected from it. For a kick-off, let’s look at the score, and that incredible, high-pitched note sustain that acts like a glistening lightning bolt that cuts its way upward from out of the cue. Wow – there is real clarity and a scintillating, glass-like precision to this singularly diamond-penetrating note. The guitar riffs, keyboard motifs and pounding bass fill the room with energetic sound, fantastically mixed and separated and pulsating with rich colour and depth. Those echo-jangling piano notes hit home with vigour and the sweetly haunting children's lullaby lilts and floats across the front of the soundscape with distressing finesse. The thing is, though, that the mix loves the music so much that most of the other elements come across as being pretty insipid in comparison … which could be problem for some who like more of a natural balance.
Dialogue, always dubbed whether you hear it in English or Italian, comes over well enough, without anything getting lost in the mix, though there is little natural bite to any of it. There is some separation and directionality to the voices too, across that wide front. It should be pointed-out that the 2-channel English language track has some portions of the English audio missing, with the scenes in question reverting back to Italian, but with English subtitles. The English dialogue was either never recorded, or has been lost. To be fair, this is only a brief section and won't disrupt your enjoyment.
The effects are adequately handled without being as demonstrative as I may have preferred. Low level impacts, other than the expressive bass emanating from the score that does possess genuine heft, have a nice guttural edge to them, but the various slicings and bashings that take place certainly lack the sort of weight that we would expect to have heard from an Argento movie. Audio gore-hounds will appreciate the squishing of a head beneath a car wheel, and the wind-sucking severing of a necklace trapped throat, however. Things the shattering of glass – a window as a head is hacked through it, a pane falling onto Marcus' unwitting noggin – are not as clear and sharp as they could be, given the precise high-end quality of Goblin's score. Surround activity is there all right, with plenty of score bleed, and some ambience being picked up, but this is not a track that will be remembered for its immersive wraparound qualities. This said, the depth of the 5.1 audio track is unmistakably satisfying.
With a film that depends so heavily upon its soundtrack, and by that I primarily mean its musical score, this is possibly the best that Deep Red could sound. The orchestral and effects cues from Gaslini are sublimely mixed, and Goblin’s phenomenal contribution is delivered with a stunning presentation that deliberately and rewardingly propels the movie-viewing experience to unparalleled levels of clarity and intensity. Let’s put it this way, if you love prog-rock in general, or maybe just this score, you will be mightily impressed with its performance here on Arrow’s Blu-ray.
By now, we have come to expect great things from Arrow Video in terms of their supplemental packages. And Deep Red adheres pretty well to the aesthetic and collectible side of things, with its reversible sleeves, mini-poster and little 8-page booklet, from Argento-scribe Alan Jones. But there is certainly something lacking in the featurettes department.
We do get a reasonable commentary track from Thomas Rostock, who has written extensively about Argento's work and interviewed him. His slow and mellifluous approach is quite lulling, but he imparts a deliberate scene-specific dissection of the film as it unfolds. He even manages to pick up on a couple of things that I'd never noticed before, such as the image of the two murderous hands that Helga has jotted down on her note-paper just before her brutal slaying at the real murderer's hands. He is also able, against all the odds, to make a great case for the inclusion of those seemingly inept comedy scenes between Hemmings and Nicolodi. His passion for the film is pretty much peerless, and the hours that he must have spent scrutinising its imagery and pondering upon its many mysteries and directorial tricks are surely worthy of some sort of medal. Sadly, what is apparent, is that he is merely reading his commentary to us off the page, and has meticulously rehearsed the whole thing. On the one hand, this ensures that we get a steady delivery that doesn't stumble or forget things but, on the other, it can't help but be slightly smug, lecture-like and utterly lacking in spontaneity, like a very warm and compassionate robot. Sometimes you just want the speaker to cut loose and go wild over the insane stuff taking place on-screen, and not remain totally even, cool and almost soothing in their delivery. Rostock would have a good bedside manner for insomniacs, that's for sure. But it is abundantly clear that he relished delivering this commentary.
And, on a similar note, there is another somnambulist interview with Dario Argento, which was obviously culled from the same session as seen on Arrow’s Inferno disc, in which the once-master of Italian Horror rambles on about the film … but this is nothing more than tedious waffle. In Italian. And subtitled. Subtitled Italian waffle, then. Some themes get a mention, and some thoughts, but this is a waste of time.
Lady in Red: Daria Nicolodi remembers Profundo Rosso is twenty minutes in the company of the actress, as she regales us with how became involved with the project and with Argento, and how she modelled the character on mannerisms that the director, himself, had, and how the role was somewhat radical for the times. She regards the film as “a thriller and a series of music videos” but clearly admires it, and speaks of the artistic influences that she upon him, broadening his visual eye outside the merely cinematic, with ideas of theatre and modern art. Nicolodi provides some fine insight into how it was on-set with Hemmings, Lavia and Argento, and, naturally, cannot resist putting the boot in over what it was like living, and sleeping with the filmmaker. Overall, this is a fine feature – despite being presented in a curious combination of both Italian (mainly) and some random English sentences - that provides some very interesting trivia and reminiscence, plus there are some humorously cherry-picked clips from the film used to illustrate the points she is making – especially regarding Dario, and his ways.
Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti supplies a largely irrelevant and optional introduction to the film, but adds a bit more meat to the dish in a later interview entitled Music to Murder for! Here we have fifteen minutes with him as he talks about how the band evolved, how they met with Argento, and how much this relationship has meant to them. He informs us of the band's prog-rock influences, what horror films helped inspire them and of the massive success of their groundbreaking first collaboration with Argento for Deep Red, the album release of which sold millions right from the word go, and then remained at the number one slot (in Italy) for weeks. We hear about how John Carpenter was influenced by the simplicity of their repetitive main themes, and how this led, or bled, into the immortal Halloween main title. Simonetti is a very nice bloke who, nowadays, looks nothing like a rock performer, and even less like a horror fanatic.
The disc closes with the film's original Italian and US trailers.
Over on Disc 2, which also houses the International Cut of the film, we just find the one extra feature … and, sadly, it is not worth bothering with.
As is becoming quite customary now with these Italian genre releases, we get a featurette-cum-tour of Rome's answer to Forbidden Planet, the specialist store owned by Argento and Luigi (Starcrash/Contamination) Cozzi, and named provocatively Profundo Rosso. Cozzi takes us around the museum beneath the collectibles store to show us the props – only a handful of them actually genuine – and exhibits culled from both their films and from others'. I'm going to be honest now and say that I'm getting bored with this stuff. The store, which I haven't visited, by the way, looks rubbish, as do the props and exhibits, and this is now becoming a tedious example of shoehorned publicity. Of course, it would be great to go there and meet Cozzi, who runs the place, and Argento, and any number of other genre names and celebs, whose pictures line the walls and crop up in the featurettes as some sort of back-slapping endorsement, but the joint looks so damn tacky and grubby. Forbidden Planet, in the old, old days, wasn't much better, to be fair, but it was still a little Mecca of the macabre and the mysterious … and it has evolved marvellously. Profundo Rosso, as much as Roman fans may need the place, just looks like a backstreet pornographer's gaff.
This is just depressing filler, folks, and many of us have seen it all before.
On a plus note, after complaining previously about the length of the admittedly cool animated title sequences for High Rising Productions, who produce all these features in association with Arrow Video, they are getting shorter.
As nice as this package is, I expected more for Deep Red.
I love Deep Red, and although I had deliberately avoided watching it for a couple of years in the hope that it would gain a glorious hi-def release that I could then savour with seemingly fresh eyes, I actually found myself clock-watching during the film this time out, which truly surprised me. Make no mistake, this is a landmark giallo offering from a filmmaker who certainly once knew how to concoct elaborately violent murder-mysteries and was responsible for reshaping the format in the seventies and spawning a thousand imitations, but there is a stop-start pace and too many little unnecessary character asides that detract from the momentum and the drama of the Director’s Cut, making it something of a dubious experience, yet it has that fantastic lossless treatment of the score to commend it. But there is no denying the classy brutality, the ardent flair for the cinematic and the theatrical, and the brazen sense of illogicality that is a hallmark of Spaghetti Splatter, and of Dario Argento primarily. Deep Red still contains one of the most compelling and clever visual tricks that the horror/thriller has ever been able to conjure. Its circular, poetic narrative has the capacity to endlessly fascinate, with new facets and frisson unfolding each time you see it. Perhaps this is why I became so restless with it during my review session. Maybe I didn't want to be looking around the frame for clues, or trying to tap into those multi-layered subtexts - the Jewish/Fascist angle, for example. Maybe I just wanted to soak up that renowned visual excess and all that glorious deep red blood. Maybe. What I do know is that, now that I've watched it couple of times for this BD coverage … I actually can't wait to see it again! And that's exactly the sort of spell that Argento used to be able to cast with alarming ease.
But if I thought that it would be easy to just recommend the International Cut over his own extended version, for its more vigorous pace, I would be forgetting about how obvious and glaring all those hasty edits are.
Somewhere in-between the two versions is the definitive Profundo Rosso … and that is, indeed, a masterpiece. But at least this release allows you the option of exploring both and making up your own mind.
Although there are certainly issues with this transfer, this is still Deep Red in hi-definition and it does look much better than you may have seen it before. But personally, I am looking forward to seeing what Blue Underground’s forthcoming transfer is like. I will be taking a look at that in due course and hoping that it improves upon the image from Arrow. For now, though, this is still an excellent value release for what many consider to be the defining film of the giallo genre.
It's Deep Red. On Blu-ray.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £16.99
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